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Princeton Presbyterian Church  (EPC)                                              Sermon # 1184

October 5, 2014                                                                                  John 4:19-26

Dr. Ed Pettus                                                                                      Luke 19:1-10


“Those Whom the Lord Seeks”


            When I was a youth director in Orlando, Florida, way back in the early 80’s, I was studying everything I could to prepare myself for youth ministry.  I remember hearing someone talk about the one place in the Bible where God sought people.  That was in John 4 where Jesus says God seeks those who worship him in spirit and truth.  I never really questioned if that was the only place talking about those whom God seeks, but recently in studying yet again for ways to improve in ministry, someone added to the “seeking” narrative with Jesus’ words from Luke 19 that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  Well, that got me to thinking, maybe there are even more places in the scriptures where God seeks people.  After some extensive searching and seeking, this is it!  God seeks those who worship in spirit and truth and seeks the lost.  We can change the verb from seek to search and the only additions from there is that God searches the heart.  In essence, God is seeking the heart as well in John 4 and Luke 19, the heart for worship and the heart for salvation. 


            I want to show you those verses that speak of God’s searching.  Psalm 139:23 is a prayer for God to search our hearts, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!”  Jeremiah 17:10 is a statement from God that he indeed would answer the prayer of the Psalm.  “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”  God seeks and searches out our hearts and minds. 


            From the New Testament there is another wonderful word of encouragement for us on this theme.  “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:26-28 (ESV)


            The good news in all these passages and in the two main gospel passages we are considering this morning is that God seeks us out.  He searches the heart.  He desires from us our heartfelt sincere worship.  God seeks out and saves his people.  Isn’t it a blessing to know that God is seeking you?  If we are lost, God is seeking us.  If we believe, God is seeking us for worship in spirit and truth. 


            In John 4 Jesus meets a Samaritan woman and a well.  Proper Jews would not normally talk to a Samaritan, because they were of mixed race, and especially a Jewish male talking to a Samaritan woman.  But Jesus was not one to always follow the Jewish rules of the day.  As he speaks with this woman he talks about worship.  One of the things that God has always desired from his people is authentic worship.  Even in the Old Testament God was never pleased with his people going through the motions.  He desired praise and thanksgiving above all animal sacrifices.  He desired what comes from the heart over ritual and ceremony.  John Dyck comments on this passage when writing about John Calvin’s view of worship:


This is one of the great concerns of Calvin and must continue to be a concern today: the mere performing or acting out of worship is not acceptable; rather, the Lord seeks heartfelt biblical worship in Spirit and in truth. This is what the Lord Jesus specifically said when he taught the woman at the well that true worshipers “shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father [seeks] such to worship him” (John 4:23). Jesus also declared: “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:9).[1]


Jesus is talking about worship that is genuine and from the deepest sense of our self.  Jesus helps us see that it is not the liturgy, not the ritual, not the style of worship we employ, but it is what we bring to this sanctuary and what we do in our lives that matter in worship.  Remember what the apostle Paul says about spiritual worship,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Rom.  12:1-2).   Worship in spirit and truth is more than just our Sunday worship, it is our Sunday worship, but it is not confined to it.  Worship is also a way of life.  Worship is being a living sacrifice, transforming the mind in such a way that we live daily able to discern God’s will – that which is good and acceptable and perfect. 


John Calvin says this in his commentary on John’s gospel:  “But the first inquiry which presents itself here is, why, and in what sense, is the worship of God called spiritual? To understand this, we must attend to the contrast between the spirit and outward emblems, as between the shadows and the truth. The worship of God is said to consist in the spirit, because it is nothing else than that inward faith of the heart which produces prayer, and, next, purity of conscience and self-denial, that we may be dedicated to obedience to God as holy sacrifices.”[2]  Our living sacrifice to God is an inner being strong in faith that yields prayer, purity, self-denial, and obedience.  These are all daily traits of the Christians life and daily traits of worship. 



            Let’s turn to our next passage in Luke 19.  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  This point is made after Jesus meets and becomes a house guest of the rich tax collector Zacchaeus.  Now, in John 4 Jesus is dealing with a Samaritan woman, here Jesus is dealing with perhaps an even more controversial figure in Zacchaeus.  This guy is not just one to avoid as the Samaritan woman would have been, but one hated by most Jews.  Yet, these are the very people Jesus has been sent to seek. 

Luke’s gospel even sets this up back in chapter 15 where you have three parables about the lost: lost sheep, a lost coin, and lost son.  As far back as the book of Ezekiel, God is one who seeks the lost: 

“ I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice” (Ezekiel 34:15-16 ESV).  God has a heart for the lost.  Jesus died on the cross for the lost.  Jesus was raised from the dead for the lost.  We were the lost and in Christ we are found.  Amazing grace, indeed. 


Now, the John 4 message is that we are sought to worship and the Luke 19 message is that we are sought for salvation.  But there is something else we need to consider about both of these passages because of what Jesus told us in Matthew 28.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (19-20). 


What I take this to mean is that once we are found and once we are worshippers in spirit and truth, we are given the ministry to seek the lost and to teach those who are found to worship in spirit and truth.  We seek because we have been sought.  It goes with all the other ways we talk about what God has done.  We love because we have been loved.  We forgive because we have been forgiven.  We seek because we have been sought.  Jesus said it this way:  “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).  Jesus sends the disciples and sends us to seek as God has sought us and God will save and God will give His Spirit and His truth. 



I want to shift gears a little bit as I finish this message.  As some of you know I was originally scheduled, this weekend, to attend my favorite annual sporting event near Atlanta, a ten hour sports car race, but my plans were changed a couple of weeks ago.  Before those plans changed someone asked me if I knew about the October 5th Sunday designation called Pulpit Freedom Sunday.[3]  I was told this Sunday had been targeted for preachers to speak on politics, either about candidates or positions or issues in politics.  When I was first told this I indicated that I would be out of the pulpit on this Sunday.  Well, I am here and while I still did not plan to speak directly to politics today, I do believe that every Sunday we are making a political statement simply by being in this place at this time, reading this Bible, and praising Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Worship is not just a religious act; it is also always a political act.  What we do here proclaims particular truths that consistently speak against the world and against anything that the Bible calls sin, and against injustice, against evil, and all the cultural and societal concerns that God’s word condemns.  So, in light of Pulpit Freedom and in light of John 4 and Luke 19 I will say that there are two things we can do to speak out against political power and corruption:


(1) Worship the Lord according to John 4.  Worshipping God counters the call to worship government by dependence on government.  Worship of God makes a statement that there are no other gods worthy, no other powers worthy, and no other systems worthy.  Worshipping God proclaims one kingdom – God’s kingdom, and therefore God as king.  Worship of God sets us on a path to discern the truth – in faith, in politics, and in all things.  I would not want to stand here in this pulpit and tell you how to vote, for instance, but I would certainly tell you to never vote against biblical truth.  I would tell you to vote.  The least we can do as Christians is to vote in ways that will make for a better society and where people can live together in peace.  Worship the Lord in spirit and truth.  This is a good place to start from the pulpit or from the pew!


(2) Seek out the lost according to Luke 19.  Seeking out the lost brings people out of the darkness of this world and into the kingdom of light.  They begin to worship God which, in turn, causes the collapse of political power and idolatry.  If you want to seriously challenge political systems that seek to limit freedom and silence the voice of God’s word, then seek out the lost.  God will save and there is no power on earth that will be able to overcome the kingdom of God. 


Personally I don’t think my standing in the pulpit for the sake of challenging government agencies does much to grow the kingdom of God, but I do believe that worship and evangelism are the greatest enemies of any agency that seeks to limit our worship or our expressions of faith.  Worship in spirit and truth and seek out the lost.  In that we will garner plenty of attention from the powers that be, but best of all, we will be faithful to our Lord God who has sought and saved us, and leads us into worship as a way of life.   Amen.